From Up on Poppy Hill
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From the legendary Studio Ghibli, creators of Spirited Away, Howl's Moving Castle, and The Secret World of Arrietty, comes another animated triumph. Yokohama, 1963. Japan is picking itself up from the devastation of World War II and preparing to host the Olympics. The mood is one of both optimism and conflict as the young generation struggles to throw off the shackles of a troubled past. Against this backdrop of hope and change, a friendship begins to blossom between high school students Umi (Sarah Bolger) and Shun (Anton Yelchin) – but a buried secret from their past emerges to cast a shadow on the future and pull them apart. From a screenplay by Academy Award-winner Hayao Miyazaki and featuring an all-star English voice cast!
Goro Miyazaki's From Up on Poppy Hill (Kokuriko-Zaka Kara) was the top-grossing animated film in Japan in 2011 (outdrawing two Pokémon movies), and won the Japanese Academy Award for Best Animated Feature. The story unfolds in Yokohama during preparations for the 1964 Tokyo Olympics. Each morning as she prepares for school, industrious Umi Matsuzaki (voiced by Sarah Bolger) flies signal flags from her family's boarding house in memory of her father, who was lost at sea during the Korean War. Shun Kazama (Anton Yelchin), the engaging editor of the high school newspaper, gets her involved in his campaign to preserve "the Latin Quarter," a beloved but dilapidated building that houses the school clubs. The effort to save the ramshackle structure sparks a believable romance between these likable teenagers. Hayao Miyazaki and Keiko Niwa adapted the story from a graphic novel by Chizuru Takahashi and Tetsuro Sayama. The filmmaking is more intimate and assured than Goro Miyazaki's Tales from Earthsea (2006). Many Japanese retain a nostalgia for the early '60s, when the Olympics proclaimed their country's reemergence from the destruction of World War II and the period of rebuilding that followed. Kyo Sakamoto's crossover pop hit "Ue o muite aruko," which Americans know as "Sukiyaki," sets the tone. The Ghibli artists outdid themselves creating the dust and junk decades of high school students left in the Latin Quarter: the audience can understand both the students' affection for their ratty headquarters and the administrators' desire to be rid of an eyesore. At a time when American animation is dominated by fast-paced, big-budget CG films, From Up on Poppy Hill reminds viewers of the singular warmth of hand-drawn animation. (Rated PG: some mature themes, minor tobacco use) --Charles SolomonSee all Editorial Reviews
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The music and songs are from the 60s and are very familiar to me, except for the closing song, which is - that's my understanding - not from that era, but sung in a more traditional Japanese that allowed me to understand the lyrics. And it is very very beautiful, but also liked very much that White Flower That I Miss (not sure if this is the correct title) song that the students sing at the debate meeting.
A note about the subtitles and the original Japanese soundtrack: some reviewers complained that there is no voice over at the beginning of the movie because they saw subtitles in English but no Japanese monologue from Umi, the main female character. This is because there are, actually two subtitles: English Cast subtitle and Original Cast subtitle (both English subtitles).
The English Cast subtitle actually reproduces the English dubbed soundtrack, which has a voiced over at the beginning of the movie; now if Original Cast subtitle is selected, the subtitle follows the original Japanese soundtrack, which does not have a voice over at the beginning of the movie.
This is so, in my opinion, because the English soundtrack was created to explain things for the viewers who are not familiar with Japan of that era.
With that said, it seems to me that there is no problems with the Japanese soundtrack.or the subtitles.
UPDATE: Forgot to mention that the Original Cast subtitle has a bonus: the last song (Summer of Farewells) at the end of the movie has its lyrics included in the subtitle, which is missed in the English Cast subtitle
Overall, this was an average-at-best movie. To be sure, this film has Ghibli's trademark excellence in animation with many interesting and detailed backgrounds that bring to life 1960s Japan. I also thought that the music used was pretty good.
But what I did not like about this movie was the story. The plot line dealing with saving the Latin Quarter comes off as rather uninteresting and boring. Plus, the romance between Umi and Shun takes a really bizarre and contrived twist halfway through the movie, but by the ending I was left with a feeling of wondering why it was necessary at all.
You get plenty of bonus features with this set. There are storyboards and some behind-the-scenes features.
All in all, I felt this was only okay by Ghibli standards. Surely it is a must-see at some point for dedicated Ghibli fans, but the more casual moviegoer can probably skip it.
I watched with my PC hooked-up to a large-screen monitor with a simple stereo two-channel audio output. Parts of the soundtrack were clearly missing: a voice-over at the very beginning, and a song after the end titles; who knows what else, as well. I could tell, because the words appeared in the English sub-titles, but there was no sound. I have never encountered this sort of problem before, even though I have a fairly large collection of movies and TV shows.
Now, my take on the movie:
It is meant for older teens and adults; it will be probably boring for children.
A film mostly about the details and patterns of daily life, thoughtfully and carefully shown in a mostly plain, but now and then gorgeous, animation style. Unlike the most famous movies from the Ghibli study, there are no magical characters. The characters are engaging enough, and the main plot is good enough to keep things moving. But, at least for me, it is the details that have magic.
The place and time is Japan in the early sixties, but most of the domestic scenes - some cultural details aside -- resemble more family life in the West back in the fifties, because Japan was still catching up, after the devastation of the war.
As someone who was a young man in the fifties, even in a different culture, I find that such ordinary things as turning on the gas to heat water first thing in the morning, do really take me back. And most of the street and high school scenes are full of people, each one doing something recognizable and interesting, even when glimpsed at for just a second.
A previous Ghibli movie, in some ways similar, "Whisper of the Heart", shows contemporary Tokyo in a way that is both realistic and engaging. "Poppy Hill" shows the place at a moment of transition to its present form, still with much of the old Japan that is no longer there, and much that is still recognizable in the present day metropolis. For me Tokyo is a dear city, and the way it is shown gives this movie an added attractive.
As many other Ghibli movies, this one is mostly about a serious, smart, thoughtful, self-possessed, and determined young lady, here seen at her turning point from girl into woman.
The film has been characterized by some, including the late Roger Ebert, as bland, slow, even boring. In my opinion, it is not so much slow as unhurried, and watching it can be a good, refreshing experience - when approached in the proper spirit. It is the right movie for those that like to see, now and then, something worth watching just for what is shown: for every perfect vignette of daily life, however small and trivial, because they are satisfying enough already, so a highly dramatic, action-filled plot is not needed. (If looking for something well done, but dark, gritty and disturbing, one can always watch "Breaking Bad"; give this one a chance.)